Rachel, an attractive woman in her 30’s confessed to me, tears streaming down her face, that she never feels attracted to men who are interested in her. “They treat me like gold, and can’t do enough for me. Yet,’ she paused bewildered. “It’s those men that make me feel like I need to run a thousand miles.”
The ‘they’re too nice’ syndrome is all too common. When you date you want to be treated nicely, but when that person shows up, they can’t get away fast enough. Being treated well makes people feel uncomfortable and nervous. Underneath their discomfort is the unconscious tape recorder of the mind playing, ‘I’m not worthy of being valued and loved.’ So they run away from their mind talk, and from an attractive, potential partner.
It’s sad but true we can be our own worst enemy on the dating scene. Being unable to handle positive relationships indicates that we have holes in our emotional makeup. We need to recognise and begin remedying these foundational issues so that we can soundly choose our life partner.
Growing up, we all have different relationships with our parents. Whether we like it or not, it is this primary relationship that sets the stage for all our future relationships. While many of us have satisfying relationships with our parents, sometimes there’s something missing.
As babies and small children we try to communicate our needs through crying. Parents are supposed to respond. The trouble is, they’re often not attuned to our needs. They don’t always understand what each cry symbolizes, or they’re too absorbed in their own stressful lives and problems and can’t take the time to figure it out.
While most baby’s needs are fairly simple, food, a diaper change, a cuddle, not all parents are able to meet their baby’s cues; especially for a cuddle. Many parents don’t understand our need for “holding space,” a term coined by Donald Winnicott, a prominent psychologist in the 1930’s. The holding space, is what every child needs when they need reassurance that they aren’t alone. It gives a child the feeling that they are truly understood and loved. For many parents, the holding space is one of the most difficult things to give a child. This is because it’s unfamiliar to them, because when they were children, they didn’t receive ‘holding space’.
In situations where our parents didn’t receive sufficient nurturing, we go without. There’s a psychological principal that we can’t give to others what we don’t have for ourselves. If we haven’t received enough holding, cuddling, warmth and affection as babies and children, we are unable to give or receive it from a potential partner.
As doctor and psychologist, John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, explains, our earliest relationships lay the foundation for our future relationships with potential soul mates. This is good news for those of us who were securely attached to our parents or caregivers. Receiving love from a potential soulmate feels natural when a steady flow of consistent love is what we’re used to.
However most of us have imperfect backgrounds where love and nurturance was not readily served up on a soft serve cone when we needed it. Receiving love and affection from a future soulmate feels foreign or awkward. This kind of attachment is referred to by Bowlby as an avoidant attachment. When left untreated, avoidant attachment means that when you receive love, you want to run away. Being loved feels like too much to bare. Creating anxiety and feelings of suffocation as our unconscious mind mantra of ‘I’m not loveable’ is contradicted by this potential love partner.
Another way attachment issues manifest is when a person finds themselves forever chasing the elusive “ONE”. The only way to receive love is to frantically run after it, because that’s what they had to do as children. Their parents selectively and unpredictably dished out their love. Love was either overwhelming or inadequate. Bowlby defines this as ‘enmeshed’ attachment. The model becomes that love isn’t given when we need but rather when our parents need it.
Unhealthy attachments like this causes havoc with a person’s sense of self worth and love.
The person who chases the gorgeous, cool date and yet when they land up in a relationship with their ‘catch’ dump them, because they’re no longer what they’re looking for. What they’re actually saying is, ‘The only way to get love is to chase it, and when I’ve got it I don’t trust it, I don’t deserve it.’ And then the chase begins again.
No wonder dating is a confused martini scene of irrational contradictions and behaviours. Many people fall into the enmeshed and avoidantly attached categories, which make achieving a successful and loving relationship difficult. The good news is that it’s never too late to create new attachment models, especially in romantic love. By becoming aware of our early attachment issues with our parents we can repair them and allow ourselves to give and receive love in a healthy way.
Tips to Avoid Self Sabotage:
- Go out with the expectation of being treated with respect and dignity. This is non-negotiable.
- Watch out for mind talk that says ‘run’ or ‘they’re a loser’ when you’re being treated nicely, and there’s no rational reason to leave the relationship.
- Watch out for sabotaging behaviour. Put downs, not returning phone calls, criticisms, not turning up for dates, are all negative behaviours that jeopardise your relationship with someone you may really like and want to end up with. Explore why you’re sabotaging a potentially good relationship. Ask yourself some hard questions such as, ‘Why aren’t you allowing yourself to be in a healthy, loving relationship?’
- Get support. Seek a good therapist who can help heal your attachment issues. And if possible and if you feel safe enough, be open with your partner about your love attachment issues. Share with them that being loved makes you feel unsafe and uncomfortable because you’re not used to it.
- Together you can work on rectifying the hurtful perception that you’re unlovable and unworthy, that you’ve believed all these years. Together you can form a new model of attachment and love that is secure, nurturing and unconditional.